The Living and the Departed
After Liturgy, many parishes in America have special prayers for the departed. Mourning family members come forward to pray for loved ones, and after the Church prays they receive special blessing from the priest.
Why do we do this? Why go towards the front of the Church if it's our family member who has passed away?
Orthodox parishes in India, especially in villages and smaller towns, have cemeteries that are attached to the Church. Families often live walking distance from their home parish, and generations of loved ones worship at the same Church and later are interred in the same Church cemetery.
The family routine therefore became attending Church to participate in Holy Qurbana, and then afterward go to the grave of their loved ones and wait for the priest to offer incense. I remember going to dad's home parish in Mavelikera, and as we walked to Appachan's grave seeing other families waiting by the graves as the priest went with incense from family to family to pray.
This is the solemn prayer the Church in America participates in today ... the candles and Cross are placed (usually on the step) as if on the tomb, and the priest prays with the Church.
Our parish priest, Fr. Sajeev Mathews George, uses a special mat to re-enforce this amazing teaching. The Church prays as if at the grave of the departed, and as with everything in the Church there is a deeper teaching as even at the graveside in India it is not just the family that prays but the entire Church. The Body of Christ (the Church) prays across all boundaries of time and space i.e., "May the living and the departed together cry out, ‘Blessed is He, who has come, and is to come, and give life to the dead.’"
This is the next chapter for our parishes in America i.e., to have attached cemeteries. As an elder Deacon once told me, in the olden days leaving the Church was literally leaving your family and loved ones .. but, as we wait for that blessed day, let's begin teaching ourselves and our children about why we do what we do on Sunday.